See biography by J. D. Mack (1966); study by M. Colwell (1970).
Captain Matthew Flinders, RN (16 March 1774 – 19 July 1814) was one of the most successful navigators and cartographers of his age. In a career that spanned just over twenty years, he sailed with Captain William Bligh, circumnavigated Australia and encouraged the use of that name for the continent. He survived shipwreck and disaster only to be imprisoned as a spy. He identified and corrected the effect upon compass readings of iron components and equipment on board wooden ships and he wrote what may be the seminal work on early Australian exploration A Voyage To Terra Australis.
Initially serving on HMS Alert, he transferred to HMS Scipio, and in July 1790 was made midshipman on HMS Bellerophon under Captain Pasley. By Pasley's recommendation, he joined Captain Bligh's expedition on , transporting breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica. This was also young Flinders' first look at Australian waters landing at Adventure Bay, Tasmania in 1792. Upon his return to England, he rejoined the Bellerophon, in which he saw action at the Glorious First of June.
Not long after their arrival in Port Jackson, Flinders and Bass made two expeditions in a small open boat called Tom Thumb: the first to Botany Bay and Georges River, the second along the south coast to Lake Illawarra.
In 1798, Flinders, who was now a Lieutenant, was given command of the sloop Norfolk and orders "to sail beyond Furneaux Islands, and, should a strait be found, pass through it, and return by the south end of Van Diemen's Land". The passage between the Australian mainland and Tasmania enabled savings of several days on the journey from England, and was named Bass Strait, after his close friend. In honour of this discovery, the largest island in Bass Strait would later be named Flinders Island.
Flinders once more sailed the Norfolk, this time north on the 17 July 1799, he arrived in Moreton Bay between Redcliffe and Brighton. He touched down at Pumicestone Passage, Redcliffe and Coochiemudlo Island and also rowed ashore at Clontarf. During this visit he named Redcliffe after the Red Cliffs.
In March 1800, Flinders rejoined the Reliance which set sail for England.
On 17 April 1801, Flinders married longtime friend Ann Chappelle (1772-1825). Flinders hoped to bring her with him to Port Jackson, but could not get permission from the admiralty. As a result, she was obliged to stay in England, and they would not see each other for nine years.
The Investigator set sail for Australia on 18 July 1801. Attached to the expedition were Robert Brown (botanist), Ferdinand Bauer and William Westall (artist). Due to the scientific nature of the expedition, Flinders was issued with a French passport, despite England and France then being at war.
Flinders reached Cape Leeuwin on 6 December 1801, and proceeded to make a survey along the southern coast of the Australian mainland.
On 8 April 1802 while sailing east Flinders sighted the Le Géographe, a French corvette commanded by the explorer Nicolas Baudin, who was on a similar expedition for his government. Both men of science, Flinders and Baudin met and exchanged details of their discoveries, at what would later be named Encounter Bay.
Proceeding along the coast, Flinders explored Port Phillip, which unbeknownst to him had been discovered only 10 weeks earlier by John Murray. With stores running low, Flinders proceeded to Sydney, arriving 9 May 1802.
Having hastily prepared the ship, Flinders set sail again on 22 July, heading north and surveying the coast of Queensland. From there he passed through the Torres Strait, and explored the Gulf of Carpentaria. During this time, the ship was discovered to be badly leaking, and despite careening, they were unable to effect the necessary repairs. Reluctantly, Flinders returned to Sydney, though via the western coast, completing the circumnavigation of the continent. Arriving in Sydney 9 June 1803, the Investigator was judged to be unseaworthy and condemned.
Flinders then took command of the 29 ton cutter Cumberland in order to return to England, but the poor condition of the vessel forced him to put in at French-controlled Mauritius for repairs on 17 December 1803.
War with France had broken out again the previous May, but Flinders hoped his French passport (though for a different vessel) and the scientific nature of his mission would allow him to continue on his way. Despite this, and the knowledge of Baudin's earlier encounter with Flinders, the French governor, Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen, was suspicious and detained Flinders. The relationship between the men soured: Flinders was affronted at his treatment, and Decaen insulted by Flinders refusal of an invitation to dine with him and his wife.
Decaen referred the matter to the French government, which was delayed not only by the long voyage, but also by the general confusion of war. Eventually on 11 March 1806, Napoleon gave his approval, but Decaen still refused allow Flinders' release. It has been suggested that by this stage Decaen believed Flinders' knowledge of the islands defences would have encouraged Britain to attempt to capture it. Nevertheless, in June 1809 the Royal Navy began a blockade of the island, and June 1810 Flinders was paroled and set sail for England.
Flinders had been confined for the first few months of his captivity, however he was later afforded greater freedoms to move around the island and access his papers. In November 1804 Flinders sent the first map of the landmass he had charted (Y46/1) back to England. This was the only map that Flinders name “AUSTRALIA”and the first known time Flinders used the word "AUSTRALIA"
Flinders finally returned to England in October 1810 in poor health and immediately resumed work preparing A Voyage to Terra Australis for publication. On 18 July 1814, the day after the book was published Matthew Flinders was dead, aged 40.
On 12 April 1812 he and his wife had a daughter who became Mrs. William Petrie; in 1853 the governments of New South Wales and Victoria bequeathed a belated pension to her (deceased) mother of £100 per year, to go to surviving issue of the union. This she, Mrs. Anne (née Flinders) Petrie (1812-1892), accepted on behalf of her young son, named William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who would go on to become an accomplished archaeologist and Egyptologist.
Flinders was not the first to use the word "Australia" (see the Australia article on that). He owned a copy of Alexander Dalrymple's 1771 book An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean, and it seems likely he borrowed it from there, but he applied it specifically to the continent, not the whole South Pacific region. In 1804 he wrote to his brother: "I call the whole island Australia, or Terra Australis" and later that year he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks and mentioned "my general chart of Australia." That 92cm x 72cm chart, made that year, was the first time the name Australia was used on a map, a map he had began while imprisoned by the French in Mauritius.
Flinders continued to promote the use of the word until his arrival in London in 1810. Here he found that Banks did not approve of the name and had not unpacked the chart he had sent him, and that "New Holland" and "Terra Australis" were still in general use. As a result, a book by Flinders was published under the title A Voyage to Terra Australis despite his objections. The final proofs were brought to him on his deathbed, but he was unconscious. The book was published on 18 July 1814, and Flinders died the next day without regaining consciousness, and never knowing that his name for the continent would be later accepted .
In this book, however, Flinders wrote: "The name Terra Australis will remain descriptive of the geographical importance of this country... [but] had I permitted myself any innovation upon the original term, it would have been to convert it into Australia; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth."
Flinders' book was widely read and gave the term "Australia" general currency. Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales, became aware of Flinders' preference for the name Australia and used it in his dispatches to England. On 12 December 1817 he recommended to the Colonial Office that it be officially adopted. In 1824 the British Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.
Flinders' name is now associated with over 100 geographical features and places in Australia in addition to Flinders Island, in Bass Strait. Flinders is seen as being particularly important in South Australia, where he is often considered the main explorer of the state. Landmarks named after him in South Australia include the Flinders mountain range and Flinders Ranges National Park, Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, Flinders University, Flinders Medical Centre, the suburb Flinders Park and Flinders Street in Adelaide. In Victoria, eponymous places include Flinders Street in Melbourne, the suburb of Flinders, the federal electorate of Flinders, and the Matthew Flinders Girls' Secondary College in Geelong.
Flinders Bay in Western Australia and Flinders Way in Canberra also commemorate him. There is even a school named after him: Flinders Park Primary School. Another school named in his honour is Matthew Flinders Anglican College, on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. There are also Flinders Highways in both Queensland and South Australia.
Australia holds a large collection of statues erected in Flinders' honour, second only in number to statues of Queen Victoria. In his native England the first statue of Flinders was erected on 16 March 2006 (his birthday) in his hometown of Donington. The statue also depicts his beloved cat Trim, who accompanied him on his voyages.
Flinder's proposal for the use of iron bars to be used to compensate for the magnetic deviations caused by iron on board a ship resulted in them being known as Flinders bars in his honour.